This article is about the market town in Hampshire, England. For the district called Romsey Town in the city of Cambridge, England, see Mill Road, Cambridge. For the town in Australia, see Romsey, Victoria.

Romsey Town Centre
 Romsey shown within Hampshire
DistrictTest Valley
Shire countyHampshire
RegionSouth East
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post town ROMSEY
Postcode district SO51
Dialling code 01794
Police Hampshire
Fire Hampshire
Ambulance South Central
EU Parliament South East England
UK ParliamentRomsey and Southampton North
WebsiteRomsey Town Council
List of places

Coordinates: 50°59′20″N 1°29′48″W / 50.989°N 1.4966°W / 50.989; -1.4966

Romsey (/ˈrɒmzi/) is a small market town in the county of Hampshire, England.

It is 7 miles (11 km) northwest of Southampton, 11 miles (18 km) southwest of Winchester and 17 miles (27 km) southeast of Salisbury. Neighbouring the village of North Baddesley, just over 18,000 people live in Romsey, which has an area of about 1.90 sq mi (4.93 km2).[1]

Romsey is one of the principal towns in the Test Valley Borough and lies on the River Test, which is known for fly fishing, predominantly trout.[2] Romsey Abbey, the largest parish church in Hampshire, dominates the centre of the town.

Romsey was home of the 20th-century soldier and statesman The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the 19th-century British prime minister Lord Palmerston, and the 17th-century philosopher and economist William Petty.

Romsey is twinned with Paimpol in Brittany, France, and Battenberg, Germany.[3]


Middle Ages to the Civil War

The name Romsey is believed to have originated from the term Rūm's Eg, meaning "Rūm's area surrounded by marsh". Rūm is probably an abbreviated form of a personal name, like Rūmwald (glorious leader).

What was to become Romsey Abbey was founded in 907. Nuns led by Elflaeda, daughter of Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, founded a community – at his direction – in what was then a small village. Later, King Edgar refounded the nunnery, about 960, as a Benedictine house under the rule of St. Ethelflaeda whose devotional acts included chanting psalms while standing naked in the cold water of the River Test.

The village swelled alongside the religious community. The Vikings sacked Romsey in 993, burning down the church. But the village recovered, and the abbey was rebuilt in stone in about 1000. The religious community flourished as a seat of learning, especially for the children of the nobility. A market was established outside the abbey gates.

The Domesday Book of 1086, which identifies three mills in the village, provides the earliest record of the Watermills which have played a part in Romsey's history as an industrial town.

The body of King William II "Rufus" was carried through Bell Street in Romsey on its way to Winchester, after he had been killed whilst hunting in the New Forest.

The Normans built the large current abbey that dominates the town (between c. 1120 and 1140) on the site of the original Saxon church. By 1240, 100 nuns lived in the convent.

King Henry I granted Romsey its first charter. This allowed a market to be held every Sunday, and a four-day annual fair in May. In the 13th century, Henry III permitted an additional fair in October.

The lucrative woollen industry appears to have powered Romsey's growth during the Middle Ages. Wool was woven and then fulled or pounded with wooden hammers whilst being washed. It was dyed, and then exported from nearby Southampton.

Romsey continued to grow and prosper until plague struck the town in 1348-9. The Black Death is thought to have killed up to half of the Romsey's population of 1,000. The number of nuns fell as low as 19. Prosperity never returned to the abbey. It was finally suppressed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Many religious buildings were destroyed around this time. The abbey itself was saved from demolition because part of it was a parish church for the people of Romsey. The town purchased the abbey from The Crown for £100 in 1544. The part of the abbey that had saved the abbey, the church of St Lawrence, was demolished.

By the mid-16th century Romsey's population was about 1,500; its woollen and tanning industries fuelled growth. On 6 April 1607 King James I granted the town a charter making it a borough. This gave official status to an informal local government that had been running the affairs of the town since the Dissolution of Romsey Abbey in 1539. Romsey could now have a corporation comprising a mayor, six aldermen and twelve chief burgesses, with a town clerk for 'office work'. Furthermore, there was to be a local law court under a Court Recorder, assisted by two sergeants-at-mace. Over all, was the position of High Steward, the first of whom was the Earl of Southampton.

Romsey changed hands several times during the English Civil War. Both Royalist and Parliamentary or Roundhead troops occupied and plundered the town. Royalists remained in control of the borough until January 1645.

18th to 20th centuries

The town's woollen industry survived until the middle of the 18th century, but was beaten by competition from the north of England. However, new fast-growing enterprises soon filled the gap with brewing, papermaking and sackmaking, all reliant upon water from the Test.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries Romsey became notable for making collapsible boats, invented by the Rev. Edward Lyon Berthon in 1851. The Berthon Boatyard in Romsey made the boats from 1870 until 1917. They were used as lifeboats on ocean-going liners.

By 1794 a canal connected Romsey to Redbridge – at the mouth of the River Test – and Andover to the north but within 50 years had largely fallen into disuse. Industry continued to grow. Romsey was a reasonably large town for the early 19th century: its population was 4,274 in the first census of 1801, compared with just 8,000 for Southampton.

Despite the arrival of the railway in 1847 the expansion slowed and whilst its population had grown to 5,654 in 1851 it then stagnated and by the time of the census half a century later (1901) the population was just 5,597.

Statue of Lord Palmerston

Lord Palmerston, the 19th-century British Prime Minister, lived at Broadlands, a large country estate on the outskirts of the town. His statue, by sculptor Matthew Noble, stands in the Market Place outside the Town Hall.

The Willis Fleming family of North Stoneham Park were major landowners at Romsey from the 17th until early 20th centuries, and were lords of the manors of Romsey Infra and Romsey Extra.[4]

Broadlands later became the home of Lord Mountbatten of Burma, known locally as "Lord Louis". In 1947, Mountbatten was given his earldom and the lesser title "Baron Romsey, of Romsey in the County of Southampton". Queen Elizabeth II's husband, Prince Philip, was his nephew and upon Philip's marriage to Elizabeth in 1947 they departed London for their honeymoon at Broadlands.

Mountbatten was buried in Romsey Abbey after being killed in an IRA bomb explosion in Ireland on 27 August 1979. After his death his titles passed to his elder daughter, Lady Brabourne, who thus became Lady Mountbatten of Burma. Her eldest son was styled by the courtesy title "Lord Romsey" until he inherited the title of Lord Brabourne in 2005.[5]

Like his parents, Charles, Prince of Wales and his first wife Diana, Princess of Wales spent the first part of their honeymoon at Broadlands in 1981.

Embley Park

Embley Park, a country estate located on the outskirts of Romsey was the home of Florence Nightingale, known for her pioneering work as a nurse and sanitary reform during the Crimean war and for laying the foundation of modern nursing. Nightingale is said to have had her calling from God whilst sitting under a giant cedar tree in the grounds of Embley Park on 7 February 1837. The site is now home to a private school.[6]

Nightingale is buried in the family vault at St. Margaret Church in East Wellow, located on the outskirts of Romsey.[7]

During 2007 Romsey celebrated the 400th Anniversary of the granting of its Charter by King James I with a programme of events from March through September, including a visit on 8 June from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.[8] Subsequently. the cost of the visit has created some local political controversy.[9]


Whilst heavy industry in the town has declined, three industrial and trading estates focus mainly on service industries and small-scale manufacturing. Three scientific and high technology employers – Roke manor research, Southampton Science Park and IBM – have establishments nearby.

The town centre contains a Waitrose supermarket, an independent department store (Bradbeers), and other retail outlets, including high street chains and independent shops.


Romsey is part of the Romsey and Southampton North parliamentary constituency. Its current MP is Caroline Nokes of the Conservative Party. Elected in the general election on 6 May 2010, after boundary changes, she defeated the Liberal Democrat MP Sandra Gidley with a 4.5% swing to Conservative from Liberal Democrat and a majority of 4,156 votes. Gidley had held the seat since a by-election in 2000 in the former Romsey seat.[10]

The town is part of the Test Valley district council which is controlled by the Conservative Party. Lord Brabourne, grandson of Lord Mountbatten of Burma, is the current High Steward, a position which dates from the 16th century (see above).

Places of interest

Romsey Abbey and Celtic cross

Romsey Abbey

Main article: Romsey Abbey

Romsey Abbey is a Norman abbey, originally built during the 10th century, as part of a Benedictine foundation, housing a community of Benedictine nuns. The surviving Anglican Parish church of Romsey, now the largest parish church in the county, is the town's most outstanding feature and is open daily to visitors.

King John's House

King John's House & Tudor Cottage was allegedly a hunting lodge used by King John of England whilst hunting in the New Forest. However, the existing building dates from much later. It does contain a number of extremely unusual and exciting historical features, including medieval wall decorations and graffiti, as well as a floor made of animal bones. The house is reportedly haunted by at least four ghosts, including a black shrouded figure, encountered by the Hampshire Ghost Society during their investigations between 2002 and 2008.[11]

The Plaza

The Plaza, a fully equipped 230-seat theatre, was previously a cinema in the 1930s, then a bingo hall until the 1980s, and is now home to local amateur dramatics group, Romsey Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (RAODS), who stage between ten and fourteen productions each year and hire the venue out for other local productions, concerts, and functions.

Sadler's Mill

Sadler's Mill

Main article: Sadler's Mill

The existence of Sadler's Mill, the only mill to be developed on the main course of the River Test, is first recorded in the 16th century, when it functioned as a corn and grist mill. Milling ceased in 1932 and the building was left derelict for many years until it was restored by new owners in 2005.

The Swan Inn

The former Old Swan Inn

The Swan Inn, a former public house now home to the Conservative Club, is said to be haunted by two Roundhead soldiers, who, according to local legend, were hanged from the iron sign bracket. One of the pair managed to cut himself loose and run into a nearby alleyway, where he soon died.[11]

The White Horse Hotel

The White Horse Hotel is a Grade II* listed 18th century coaching inn which now houses a 4-star hotel and brasserie owned and operated by Silks Hotels. The assembly rooms are where former British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston is said to have first engaged in public political debate. The Mummers Gallery and Georgian Staircase are reportedly haunted by the ghost of a lady in white.[11]

Memorial Park

The town's memorial park' which plays host to the annual Mayor's picnic, contains a Japanese World War II artillery gun, one of a pair captured by the British and brought back to Romsey by Lord Mountbatten of Burma. One was donated to the town by Lord Mountbatten, and the other was retained in the grounds of his country estate, Broadlands.

Romsey signal box

Built in 1865, the signal box controlled the freight and passenger trains running on the railway lines passing through Romsey until 1982. Rescued from demolition by Romsey and District Buildings Preservation Trust, it is now a working museum.[12]

Other places of interest


War Memorial Park

The Mayor's Picnic takes place in early-mid summer and is held in Romsey's Memorial Park. There is music performed by local schools, a variety of stalls, and the popular Duck Race, in which numbered plastic ducks 'race' each other along the river Test, to be scrupulously retrieved before awarding a prize to whoever chose the winning duck.

The Beggars Fair is held in the streets and pubs of Romsey on the second Saturday in July. It is a free festival featuring all types of music, together with dance and other street entertainment.

Romsey Carnival takes place during a week in July with the highlight being the procession through the streets of Romsey on the final Sunday afternoon.

The Romsey Agricultural & Horse Show is a large agricultural show that takes place on the second Saturday of September every year at Broadlands. The show is one of the oldest in England, held annually since 1842. In addition, Broadlands has twice hosted the CLA Game Fair, the largest countryside show in the world, most recently in July 2006.

The Winter Carnival takes places each year when Romsey's Christmas lights are switched on.

The Romsey Arts Festival occurs every 3 years, showcasing talent from in and around the local area.

Romsey Classic Car Show is a charity event that has been running on Boxing Day since 2002, attracting hundreds of pre-1976 vehicles to the town centre car parks.

Romsey has two Rotary Clubs which are active, working with local business partners and schools to raise charitable funds for the community. The Rotary Clubs organise the annual Walk The Test Way which has become popular with several hundred walkers raising money for charities.

Notable people


Romsey Abbey Primary School








Two Wilts & Dorset buses at Romsey

Romsey is within 10 miles (16 km) of both the M27 and M3 motorways, providing fast links along the south coast and to London, and to the Midlands and the North via the A34. The A36 runs a few miles west of the town, providing a direct but not particularly quick route to the West of England and South Wales. There are cycle links to Southampton.

Romsey has a railway station with frequent services (operated by First Great Western) running on the route between Portsmouth and Cardiff, via Southampton, Salisbury and Bristol.

In 2004, an hourly South West Trains local service was introduced, running to Chandler's Ford and Eastleigh and then down to Southampton and Totton. The noise from these new services attracted complaints from local residents, who demanded their withdrawal, and there were also suggestions that some of the journeys regularly carried no passengers. However, its future is assured under the new South West Trains franchise, which saw the service altered from December 2007 to run from Romsey to Southampton via Eastleigh as currently, then back to Romsey via Millbrook and Redbridge and on to Salisbury. The result is more train services for Romsey than at any other time in its history, with particular improvements for passengers travelling to Southampton or Salisbury.

A dedicated shuttle bus linking Romsey with fast London trains at Winchester was discontinued in 2009 despite a campaign to save the service.[16]

Other bus services are provided by Wilts & Dorset within the town and to Salisbury, BlueStar to Southampton and Eastleigh and Stagecoach within the town and to Winchester.

Sport and leisure

Romsey Town FC's home ground, the Bypass Ground

One of the cricket clubs is Old Tauntonians and Romsey Cricket Club[17]

The Wessex League football club Romsey Town FC play at The Bypass Ground, South Front.

Romsey Rugby Football Club is based at Romsey Sports Centre. It fields teams of all ages each weekend of the playing season.

The town has a swimming pool, the Romsey Rapids.


Published every Friday, The Romsey Advertiser is the town's newspaper printed at Redbridge, Southampton.

Media appearances

In the 1980 and 1990s, Romsey was used as the location of 'Kingsmarkham' in the television series The Ruth Rendell Mysteries. Romsey locations appear throughout the series concerning Inspector Wexford played by George Baker. The location used for the fictional police station was the former Romsey Magistrates Court in Church Street.

A fictional "Underground car park in Romsey" is referred to in an episode of the hit-TV series Absolutely Fabulous.[18]


  1. Hampshire County Council.Romsey Retrieved 3 November 2007
  2. Environment Agency (2006).Fact file on the River Test Retrieved 3 November 2007
  3. Romseynet.Romsey twinning Retrieved 1 November 2007
  4. "Romsey Estates".
  5. BBC News (2005).Death on the Nile producer dies Retrieved 1 November 2007
  6. Florence Nightingale's home at Embley Park near Romsey BBC News, 5 May 2010
  7. "Florence Nightingale: Her Funeral". 20 August 1920. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  8. BBC News (2007).Queen marks charter anniversary Retrieved 1 November 2007
  9. BBC News (2007).Town left with royal toilet bill Retrieved 3 November 2007
  10. Caroline Nokes is MP for Romsey and Southampton North Romsey Advertiser, 7 May 2010
  11. 1 2 3 Scanlan, David (2009). Paranormal Hampshire. Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1848682573.
  12. "Romsey Signal Box". Friends of Romsey Signal Box.
  13. Charles Butler. "Romsey". Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  14. "Charlie Dimmock profile: news, photos, style, videos and more". Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  15. "Test Valley Borough Council". Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  16. Campaign to save bus defeated Romsey Advertiser, 9 November 2007
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